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Freelancing 101: How Do I Promote Myself Without Looking Sleazy?

One of the toughest things about working as a freelancer can be getting your name out there. How do you connect with the right clients? How can you help those companies find you and your work? And how can you do it without feeling sleazy?

It can be a tough balance. But there are ways to do it. With the right mix of marketing, promotion and word of mouth – and a few design tools – you can find potential clients and feel good about it.

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Look Like a Business


As a freelancer, it is important to “dress the part” of a business owner. You should have all the things a business would have – business cards, a phone number, professional email address, website and office hours. Looking like a business will give clients that impression that you are professional and serious about your work.

This business package should be simple, professional and branded to the type of work you do. Designers should use a simple design theme that carries across these branding components. Buy a web domain and use it. (I use my name because it is easy.) Link your professional email to that domain as well. (Hotmail email addresses do not appear professional.)

Then make sure you have a phone number or Skype for business use. That number should be easily available to clients. If you are serious about freelancing, consider a dedicated line for work. That way you know when to answer the phone as a professional and not with “what’s up?”

“Office hours” are also important. Even if your office is in your home. This tells clients when to call and when to expect correspondence from you. Office hours don’t have to be a 40-hour 9-to-5 workweek, but should offer clients a few times each week that you will be available.

Sign Your Work

It may sound simple but when working on contract projects, take credit when you can. (This may not always be possible.) Add completed projects to your portfolio or include a signature or credit line when applicable.

Web developers, for example, will often add something in the footer for a site they have built. Illustrators often embed a signature into the print or on the back of an image.

Always ask the client – or get it in the contract – as to what kind of “signature” is acceptable. And for confidential projects, get permission before posting to any type of portfolio.

Spend a Little on Advertising

freelancing 101

Sometimes you have to spend a little money to make a little money. Advertising is a good way to do that. But be smart about it.

Place some ads that will get to your target market. Consider geography, client needs and the type of work you do. Smart spends will help you reach your audience and hopefully gain brand recognition and a few new calls.

Some of the best (and least expensive) ways to get started are to create an email newsletter, send a postcard, advertise on social media. The next step is to upgrade to mediums that more people will see but will cost somewhat more such as television, newspapers or magazines.

Network Online

freelancing 101

Get active online and on social media. Talk to others in your field. Ask for feedback and advice. There are quite a few options for designers that are valuable. (Sites such as Dribbble and Behance are among the best, because you can show off work and gather feedback at the same time.)

Every freelancer should be on Facebook (as a business), Twitter, LinkedIn and one or more portfolio sites. Use your brand identity, and professional photo, to create a unified social media identity. And remember to always keep it professional and nice online.

Engaging with other designers (or writers or developers) is a good way to create a virtual office of colleagues. You can share experiences, work and even frustrations with an online community. Freelancing can at times be a lonely business and networking can be a valuable tool.

Network in Person

While it is easy to network online, some people may find it harder to get out and meet new people in person. But you should. Get involved in your community. Join a networking club, or group that encourages people to support local businesses.

Attend networking events in your area. If your budget allows, go to a work-related conference each year. And don’t sit on the sidelines, get out there and talk to people. Listen to conversations and pinpoint people who could benefit from working with you. Sell them on what you do.

Have an elevator speech. What do you do and why people should hire you in 30 seconds? I always start with something catchy and then go from there.

Reward Good Clients

Treating clients well, offering referral bonuses and other perks can help existing clients recruit new business for you.

While it may not sound like a way to promote yourself, rewarding good clients can be one of the best ways to encourage word-of-mouth promotion. If a current client tells someone else how good your work is, it can turn into more work.

Treating clients well, offering referral bonuses and other perks can help existing clients recruit new business for you.

While it is seldom a good idea to start working for free, do a little spec work for good clients if you have ideas that could help them do something different. I also do design work as gifts for friends and family. When someone gets married or is expecting a baby, my gift is often custom designed invitations or save the date magnets or birth notices. (This is also a good way to diversify your portfolio.)

Become a Resource

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One of the greatest ways to be recognized (and hired) is to be an expert and resource in your field. Don’t try to do a lot of little things; do one thing exceptionally well and market that and only that.

When people ask you for help, answer them. It’s ok to give a 140-character bit of free advice. Pay it forward and do things for others just because. Introduce people and help them make connections.

I recently had someone come to me for a website build. While I do some of my own sites, that is not my commercial expertise. Rather than just saying no, I connected the client to a few people that did have that knowledgebase and skillset. The mutual connection is a good one and at some point those other freelancers are likely to return the favor.

There are other ways to be a resource as well. If you have a knack for writing or video, start a blog (or write for another blog). Share ideas, tools, tips and information that potential clients would be interested in.


Self-promotion does not have to be sleazy. It is just a part of the freelance business. While it can be intimidating at first, it’s not that hard to get out there and begin making a name for yourself. Good luck!

Freelancing 101 is a new monthly series to help the increasing number of freelancers in the market. Whether you are a designer, writer, developer or wear multiple hats, we will share tips, resources and ideas to help you make the most of your small business. Is there something in particular you want to know? How do you feel about this series? Let me know at [email protected].

Image Sources: faster panda kill kill, Anthony Quintano and Ed Yourdon.